Journalists protest massacre in Philippines

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 9:01 AM

Some 1,000 journalists and activists marched Monday in the capital to protest the massacre in the southern Philippines of 57 civilians, including at least 30 journalists and their staff in the world's deadliest attack on the media.

Clad mostly in black shirts and carrying a black mock coffin as well as placards calling for a stop to media killings, they demanded the arrest of all suspects in the Nov. 23 massacre in southern Maguindanao province.

The massacre victims were in a convoy to cover a local politician's filing of his intention to run for governor in the predominantly Muslim province when dozens of gunmen abducted and then butchered them on a nearby hill and buried them in mass graves. The candidate's wife and sisters were among the dead.

The carnage drew worldwide condemnation, including from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It has also highlighted the violent factionalism that plagues the volatile region _ and the deadly risks journalists take in covering it.

Media watchdogs say it was the world's deadliest single assault on journalists.

The protesters marched to a bridge near the presidential palace.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's spokesman Cerge Remonde, a former radio broadcaster, walked over to the protesters, whose path was blocked by barbed wires and police, to assure them the government was doing everything to give justice to all the victims. But he was booed, heckled and hit by crumpled paper thrown by irate protesters.

A representative of the Malaysia-based Confederation of ASEAN Journalists read a statement at the rally for CAJ President Norila Daud, who urged Arroyo to use the full force of the Philippine judicial system to ensure all suspects are immediately apprehended, whoever they may be and wherever they may be hiding.

Arroyo said in statement read by Remonde at a news conference after the rally that the country must rededicate itself to "to freedom of the press, freedom of political expression, and freedom to vote free from fear of violence and intimidation."

"We must all join hands to strengthen our resolve that never again will rouge political leaders take the law into their hands and violate the law of the nation and the laws of God," she added.

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The main suspect _ Andal Ampatuan Jr., the son of a political warlord _ has been detained in Manila and faces multiple murder charges.

Remonde said the investigation continues and cases against other suspects are being pursued.

The Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists wrote Friday to Arroyo saying that 75 journalists had been killed during her eight years in office _ even before last week's massacre _ and that only four convictions of the killers have been secured.

The Ampatuans held a rare news conference Sunday to again deny responsibility in the killings. Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of a Muslim autonomous region that includes Maguindanao, said he and his father, who have also been linked to the slayings, were innocent.